Posizionamento pay nei motori (con inganno)

Mi è stata segnalata questa notizia, che ritenendo utile, giro a tutta la

“Molti sono i motori di ricerca che hanno deciso di far pagare i siti per
poter ottenere posizioni alte nelle classifiche. E fino a qui nulla di
male. Il problema è che alcuni di questi motori non lo dicono traendo,
effettivamente, in inganno gli ignari utenti. Leggete qui la protesta
dell'Associazione dei Consumatori:
(http://www.commercialalert.org /releases/searchenginerel.html)


For Immediate Release: Monday, July 16, 2001
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin (503) 235-8012

Commercial Alert Files Complaint Against Search Engines for Deceptive Ads

Commercial Alert filed a deceptive advertising complaint today with the
Federal Trade Commission against eight search engines, for placing ads in
search engine results without clear disclosure that the ads are ads.
The complaint states that such listings "look like information from an
objective database selected by an objective algorithm. But really they are
paid ads in disguise."

Companies named in the complaint include AltaVista Co., AOL Time Warner
Inc., Direct Hit Technologies, iWon Inc., LookSmart Ltd., Microsoft Corp.
and Terra Lycos S.A.

"These search engines have chosen crass commercialism over editorial
integrity," said Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert.

"We are asking the FTC to make sure that no one is tricked by the search
engines' descent into commercial deception," Ruskin said. "If they are
going to stuff ads into search results, they should be required to say
that the ads are ads."

"This is just the latest example of how advertising is creeping into every
nook and cranny of our lives and culture," Ruskin said. "Americans are
tired of it, and the backlash is growing."

Commercial Alert's mission is to keep the commercial culture within its
proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting
the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and

Commercial Alert's website is at >.

The text of the complaint follows.

July 16, 2001

Mr. Donald Clark
Secretary of the Commission
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Room #172
Washington, D.C. 20580

RE: Deceptive advertising complaint against AltaVista Co., AOL Time Warner
Inc., Direct Hit Technologies, iWon Inc., LookSmart Ltd., Microsoft Corp.
and Terra Lycos S.A.

Dear Mr. Clark:

This letter constitutes a formal complaint against AltaVista Co., AOL Time
Warner Inc., Direct Hit Technologies, iWon Inc., LookSmart Ltd., Microsoft
Corp. and Terra Lycos S.A., and a request that the Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) investigate whether these companies are violating federal
prohibitions against deceptive acts or practices (1) by inserting
advertisements in search engine results without clear and conspicuous
disclosure that the ads are ads. This concealment may mislead search
engine users to believe that search results are based on relevancy alone,
not marketing ploys.

When search engine companies first unveiled their engines, they did not
put ads in the search results. Results were displayed based on objective
criteria of relevancy tallied by algorithms.

During the last year, however, some search engines sacrificed editorial
integrity for higher profits, and began placing ads prominently in the
results, but without clear disclosure of this practice. Advertisers pay
the search engine companies to have their products and services listed
"high" in or near the search results. Thus the listings look like
information from an objective database selected by an objective algorithm.
But really they are paid ads in disguise.

A: Some Search Engine Practices May Constitute Deceptive Advertising

For years, search engine companies have incorporated advertising into
their websites in ways that do not affect search results, such as banner
ads. But some search engines have recently adopted three advertising
practices which may affect search results: paid placement, inclusion and
submission. Paid placement is advertising that is outside of the editorial
content of the search results, sometimes above or below the editorial
content, or in a sidebar. Paid inclusion is advertising within the
editorial content of the search results, though it does not necessarily
guarantee a certain position within the results. Paid submission is the
practice of requiring payment to speed up the processing of a listing,
though it rarely guarantees that a site will in fact be listed by the
search engine. This complaint concerns the practices of paid placement and
paid inclusion without clear and conspicuous disclosure that the ads are,
in fact, ads.

In some search engines, disclosure of paid placement or inclusion in some
search engines is either non-existent or obfuscatory. (2)

Search Engine
Paid Placement
Paid Inclusion

"Featured Listings"
No paid inclusion

"Featured Listings"
No paid inclusion

"Featured Sites"
"Web Directory Sites"

"Partner Search Results"
No paid inclusion
"Featured Sites"

Direct Hit
"Partner Search Results"
No paid inclusion


"Products & Services" and "Featured Listings"


"Featured Listings"
"Reviewed Web Sites"

News accounts suggest this deception is growing worse following the
so-called "dot com crash" and the reduction in banner ad sales. For
example, Verne Kopytoff of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that:

Once relatively objective, search engines are increasingly becoming
commercial. In an effort to survive the online industry's financial
struggles, they are providing links based not just on relevancy, but on
who pays for top billing.

Over the past several months, most of the Internet's biggest portals have
added these so-called pay-for-placement search engines to their
repertoire. Yet in some cases, users are not explicitly told that the top
links provided to them are really advertisements in disguise." (3)

Not all search engine companies have adopted deceptive advertising
practices. For example, Google clearly notes that its paid placements are
"Sponsored Links," and it will not put paid ads within its search results.
"We have no plans for a paid inclusion program," Google spokesperson Cindy
McCaffrey told SearchEngineWatch.com. "[O]ur search results represent our
editorial integrity, and we have no plans to alter our automated process,
which works very well in gathering information and delivering highly
relevant results,"(4) she said.

B: The FTC Has Repeatedly Sought to Stop Companies From Concealing That
Their Ads Are Ads

By concealing the key fact that their ads are ads, search engines appear
to be violating the federal prohibition against deceptive acts or
practices. This omission falls within a line of deceptive advertising
cases in which the FTC sought sanctions against companies that have hid
that their ads were ads.

The FTC has brought many cases against producers of "infomercials,"
charging that "the infomercials were deceptive in that they purported to
be independent programming rather than paid ads." (5) For example, the
consent decree in Michael S. Levey forbids Mr. Levey from disseminating
any "advertisement that misrepresents, directly or by implication, that it
is not a paid advertisement." (6)

C: Paid Placement and Inclusion is Likely to Deceive Many Users of Search

Without clear disclosure of the inclusion of ads within search engine
results, even well-informed search engine users may not know whether a
listing is an ad. "It's getting very difficult to tell whether a site paid
to be listed or not," Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch, told
The New York Times. (7) If experts like Mr. Sullivan cannot easily figure
this out, it is unlikely that other search engine users can tell whether
any particular search engine result was a paid ad or not.

The deception is, of course, intentional. "You don't want users to come to
your site thinking the information is being weighted by whoever pays the
highest price tag,'' (8) explained Christopher Todd, an analyst at
Forrester Research.

The likelihood of deception is enhanced by the lack of sophistication of
many of search engine users. Search engines are now a commonplace part of
the quest for information and knowledge; almost every segment of society
uses them. Many search engine users are children and teenagers who may
have limited cognitive abilities and an incomplete understanding of the
purpose of advertising. They especially are likely to be deceived by the
failure to disclose that listings are paid ads.

The failure to disclose that an ad is an ad is material because it can
ultimately affect consumers' purchasing decisions, by diverting their
attention to the advertisers. This is, of course, the purpose of the ad,
and there is no question that the search listing ads in fact do this.

Because of the earlier editorial integrity in search engine results, there
is an implied representation to search engine users that listings are not
skewed by marketing or commercialism. Consumers are accustomed to search
engine protocols based on editorial integrity, and have not been told of
the departure from these protocols. In effect, this is a high-tech case of
"bait and switch."

This deception is especially important because so many Americans use the
Internet and search engines each day to find facts and information.
About 167 million Americans have access to the Internet at home, according
to Nielsen/NetRatings.(9) For many of these Internet users, search engines
have become both filter and gateway to learning and knowledge. That is a
crucial role in any society. The FTC should not allow such a privileged
role to become a platform for deception.

We urge the FTC to fully investigate this matter and exercise any and all
of its powers to enjoin the companies listed in this complaint from
disseminating deceptive advertising, and to require them to disclose, in a
clear and conspicuous manner, that ads placed in search engine results
are, in fact, ads.


Gary Ruskin
Executive Director



(1) 15 U.S.C. § 45(a)(1).

(2) Sources for chart: Danny Sullivan, "Buying Your Way in to Search
Engines," Searchenginewatch.com, May 2, 2001,
. Saul Hansell,
"Clicks for Sale; Paid Placement Is Catching On in Web Searches." The New
York Times, June 4, 2001. ,
, ,
, ,
, ,

(3) Verne Kopytoff, "Searching for Profits; Amid Tech Slump, More Portals
Sell Search Engine Results to the Highest Bidder." San Francisco
Chronicle, June 18, 2001. Attachment #1 also includes Saul Hansell,
"Clicks for Sale; Paid Placement Is Catching On in Web Searches." The New
York Times, June 4, 2001. Mindy Charski, "The Virtuous Search Engine,"
Interactive Week, June 4, 2001,

Deborah Lohse, "Searches Bringing Up More Pay-for-placement," San Jose
Mercury News, February 16, 2001. Elizabeth Weise, "Web Sites Pay to Propel
Search Engines; Fees for Detailed Listings Raise Doubts About Where the
Links Are Taking You." USA Today, November 14, 2000. See generally
Searchenginewatch.com's web page on pay for placement at

. Danny
Sullivan, "Buying Your Way in to Search Engines," Searchenginewatch.com,
May 2, 2001, .

(4) Danny Sullivan, "The Evolution of Paid Inclusion."
SearchEngineWatch.com, July 2, 2001,
. See
Attachment #2.

(5) Michael S. Levey, Docket No. C-3459, Federal Trade Commission, 116
F.T.C. 885, September 23, 1993. See e.g. Nutrivida, Inc., and Frank
Huerta, Docket No. C-3826, Federal Trade Commission, September 10, 1998.
Bogdana Corp. and Joseph L. Gruber and Bogda Gruber, Docket No. C-3820,
Federal Trade Commission, July 28, 1998. Mega Systems International Inc.,
Docket No. C-3811, Federal Trade Commission, June 8, 1998.
National Dietary Research Inc., The William H. Morris Co., and William H.
Morris, Docket No. 9263, Federal Trade Commission, 1995 FTC LEXIS
324, November 7, 1995. Olsen Laboratories Inc. et. al., Docket No.
C-3556, Federal Trade Commission, 119 F.T.C. 161, February 6, 1995.
Wyatt Marketing Corp. Inc., and James R. Wyatt, Docket No. C-3511, Federal
Trade Commission, 118 F.T.C. 117, July 27, 1994. Synchronal Corp., Docket
No. 9251, Federal Trade Commission, 117 F.T.C. 724, May
13, 1994. Del Dotto Enterprises Inc., David P. Del Dotto, and Yolanda Del
Dotto, Docket No. 9257, Federal Trade Commission, 117 F.T.C. 446, April
21, 1994. National Media Corp. and Media Arts International Inc., Docket
No. C-3441, Federal Trade Commission, 116 F.T.C. 549, June 24,
1993. C C Pollen Co. and Bruce R. Brown, Docket No. C-3419, Federal Trade
Commission, 116 F.T.C. 206, March 16, 1993. Richard Crew, File No.
882 3199, Federal Trade Commission, 1990 FTC LEXIS 475, October 16,
1990. Robert Francis, File No. 882 3199, Federal Trade Commission, 1990
FTC LEXIS 496, September 27, 1990. Twin Star Productions Inc, Jerald H.
Steer, Allan Singer, Judith Singer, Douglas Gravink, Peter Claypatch and
Steven Singer, Docket No. 882 3199, Federal Trade Commission, 1990 FTC
LEXIS 87, March 13, 1990.

(6) 58 Fed. Reg. 38768.

(7) Saul Hansell, "Clicks for Sale; Paid Placement Is Catching On in Web
Searches." The New York Times, June 4, 2001.

(8) Patricia Riedman, "Advertorial Seeps into Search Sites; Paid Listings
on Results Pages Are Becoming the Norm." Advertising Age, February 19,
2001. See Attachment #3.

(9) "Hot Off the Net," Nielsen/NetRatings, May, 2001,
. See Attachment #4.

Un saluto

Dott. Andrea Cappello

Comunicazione, Marketing, Web Marketing per PMI
Via Roma 200, 35020 Albignasego (PD) Italy
Tel./Fax +39 049 712931 - Cell. 328 9047168
"Prima capiamo i problemi, poi cerchiamo le soluzioni..."